20 Minor Drawbacks for Magic Items

Magic items are great. Adventurers crave them and learned spellcasters charge exorbitant fees to craft them for their wealthy clients. Sometimes, though—for some reason or another—the magic item has some minor drawback or another.


Such drawbacks are not normally life-threatening; rather they add a sense of uniqueness to the item in question. Alternatively, these drawbacks could serve as a subtle clues to otherwise hidden, unguessable powers.

Use the table below, to determine the item’s minor drawback:

  1. The item occasionally—and seemingly randomly—radiates light equal to that of a candle. The owner cannot control when this light appears or disappears.
  2. This item’s crafter was a glutton. During the crafting process he transferred some of his cravings to the item. Thus, the owner almost always feels hungry. His appetite would put a starving halfling’s to shame.
  3. Shadows cluster thickly about the item, creating an aura of gloom and a faint feeling of foreboding for the owner, whenever it is used.
  4. The item is 50% heavier than normal, but otherwise appears normal.
  5. When in use, the item often glows with a random bright light. Roll 1d8: 1—red, 2—orange, 3—yellow, 4—green, 5—blue, 6—indigo, 7—violet, 8—no colour. This makes hiding or using the item surreptitiously difficult at best.
  6. The owner’s finger and toe nails grow at a prodigious rate; necessitating their trimming on almost a daily basis.
  7. When the item is held or worn, bright light dazzles the owner and makes her eyes water in a similar way to how drow suffer in bright light.
  8. At some point in the past, the item was exposed to a smell anathema to dogs. Dogs and wolves will not willingly approach the owner. Indeed, they bark and bare their teeth if the item’s owner approaches them.
  9. Whenever the item’s owner uses its power, he hears a faint whispering coming from some indefinable source. The whispering is too quiet to make out any actual words and no one else can hear it.
  10. Owning the item proves disastrous for the possessor’s hair. Over the first few weeks of ownership, the owner’s hair turns progressively greyer. After a month, it begins to fall out. Getting rid of the item reverses this process over a similar amount of time.Animals hate the item’s smell.
  11. Domesticated animals—horses, cows and so on—avoid the owner whenever possible; other animals such as dogs react aggressively to the item’s presence.
  12. Something strange happened during the item’s creation. The crafter used some kind of esoteric grey-coloured oil in its creation. Occasionally, the item oozes this oil which makes it slippery and stains nearby items.
  13. When the item’s power is called forth, the temperature plunges in the immediate surrounds. Frost forms on the object itself and the owner can see his breath in the air. The temperature returns to normal after a few minutes.
  14. When used, the item becomes tremendously hot. It scorches unprotected skin and takes ten minutes to cool down.
  15. The item draws some of its power from its possessor’s life force. Whenever its power is called forth, the owner suffers a terrible headache and takes 1 point of damage.
  16. The smell of burning wood hangs in the air around the item. Creatures with a good sense of smell can detect the owner from twice the normal distance (unless other stronger smells fill the air).
  17. While possessing the item, the owner sleeps badly and often has bags under her eyes.
  18. Calling forth the item’s powers causes the owner’s ears to ring as if she had been exposed to repeated loud noise.
  19.  The item is crafted from some kind of strange or repellant material. A scroll could be scribed on flayed skin, a wand could comprise a carved bone wand and so on.
  20. The item’s previous owner was beset by misery and depression. In his last few minutes of life (before his violent death) his feelings of negativity imprinted themselves on the item. Now in times of high stress, the item psychically radiates the feelings onto its owner.

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20 Minor Drawbacks for Magic Items appears in 20 Things # 18: Troublesome Treasures.

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7 thoughts on “20 Minor Drawbacks for Magic Items

  1. 11. When a power is used, all fiery light sources (candles, campfires, hearths, lanterns, etc.), mundane and magical, within a 30 ft. radius, diminish their light output by half. [Hidden Power: Affect Normal Fires, Hidden Curse: uncontrolled Pyrotechnics].

    12. This item was crafted in one of the coldest winters ever known. It was discovered in the craftsman’s workshop, which was dark and cold, the hearth fire long dead and no sign of the craftsman was ever found. When a power is used, the item becomes chill to the touch and the area around the user gets cold enough so that frost can be seen as they breathe. [Hidden Power: Chill Touch, Hidden Curse: Spirit Summoning].

    13. This item has a hidden sentience, and an attitude. Most times it will function normally, but any character that uses it and who is not of a similar alignment [DM determines item alignment/nature] may suffer a bit of ill luck. If alignments are different, the character must roll a Charisma Check, if failed, any result must be re-rolled, with the worst option being used. If alignments are similar and the character succeeds on a Charisma Check, the best option is used. This option should only be used on items that have a success roll involved in their use. [Hidden Power: Bonus to Roll (DMs Discretion) based on the hidden contribution of the sentience, Hidden Curse: Strange Dreams and Nightmares (memories & fears of the sentience) that may foretell problems or be clues to solve problems].

    14. This item manifests noises based on it’s powers. If it manipulates fire – the sound of roaring flames can be heard, if it controls the winds – the whistle of harsh breezes surround the user, if it is blessed to some god – a symbol of their power echoes, be in rustling leaves, flapping wings, or the distant sounds of devout prayers. [Hidden Power: Detect (DMs Choice) via sound, the intensity and nature of the sound can be used to determine the nature and distance with a Wisdom or skill check, Hidden Curse: the noise may (DMs Discretion) attracts creatures of an opposed nature to the power or divinity of the item – like a Summon Spell, but with no ability to control the creatures].

    15. Every time the item is uses, the characters physical appearance slightly alters to the visage of the original creator of the item, be it hair color, eye color, apparent age, etc. No infirmities are bestowed, only the appearance is changed. [Hidden Power: Alter or Change Self, Hidden Curse: Polymorph ‘Other’ on the user to the form and countenance of the item’s creator].

    16. The blood of some creature or monster (DMs Discretion) was used in the creation of the item. Whenever the item is used, there is a weird sense of movement or presence (false Alertness or Observation Checks, saving throws allowed) in the area of such a creature – possibly even finding false tracks, smelling odd scents, or hearing strange noises. [Hidden Power: Command or Charm the specific creature or monster type, Hidden Curse: Summon an uncontrolled version of the specific creature or monster type].

    17. The item glimmers with light similar in color and nature to whatever is in the sky above them or in the direction they are facing, even if they are inside or underground – essentially, as long as there is a ‘sky’ somewhere above. [Hidden Power: Weather Sense, Hidden Curse: There is a chance the item can summon a storm or manifest a power based on the weather – lightning, ice, cold, hail, etc. in a random fashion].

    18. This item, when it’s powers are used, will cause a breeze to flow through the area, gently fluttering candles or lanterns, and lightly shifting cloaks and hair. [Hidden Power: Gust of Wind, Hidden Curse: Summon (Lesser) Elemental, along the lines of a Dust Devil or Unseen Servant, that reacts in a random fashion. Essentially, the elemental is attracted by the power, like a moth to a flame, and as it’s not bound by a true Summoning, it can do whatever it wants (Reaction Checks may apply, at the DMs Discretion)].

    19. Aches and Pains. The items actually drains a small amount of life force from the user, who feels it as aches and pains – typically in the hands and arms, whatever is closest to the item. Over time, this can be debilitating, with any major use causing a CON check to be made, risking a temporary lowering (DMs Discretion) of the character’s Constitution (which can be restored with any Healing spell or a Cure Disease). [Hidden Power: Vampiric Touch, Hidden Curse: uncontrolled Haste, which ages the user].

    20. Faerie Fire. This item will glow with Faerie Fire when used due to the use of Fey Metals and magics somewhere in it’s creation. The Fire is typically limited to the item and the one using it, although it will sometimes …. wander off a bit. [Hidden Power: Detect (DMs Discretion), the Faerie Fire will wander within a 10 ft. radius and attach to anything that has the characteristic it is meant to detect, be it magical, evil, racial, whatever, Hidden Curse: The Fire will do minor damage to the item it clings to, it’s cold fire degrading, but not technically burning. Typical Saving Throws and Item Saving Throws may apply].